Soon after his return to Montrose, the cardinal again conspired his death, causing a letter to be sent him as if it had been from his familiar friend, the laird of Kennier, in which it was desired with all possible speed to come to him, as he was taken with a sudden sickness. In the meantime the cardinal had provided sixty men armed to lie in wait within a mile and a half of Montrose, in order to murder him as he passed that way.
The letter came to Wishart’s hand by a boy, who also brought him a horse for the journey. Wishart, accompanied by some honest men, his friends, set forward; but something particular striking his mind by the way, he returned, which they wondering at, asked him the cause; to whom he said, “I will not go; I am forbidden of God; I am assured there is treason. Let some of you go to yonder place, and tell me what you find.” Which doing, they made the discovery; and hastily returning, they told Mr. Wishart; whereupon he said, “I know I shall end my life by that bloodthirsty man’s hands, but it will not be in this manner.”
A short time after this he left Montrose, and proceeded to Edinburgh, in order to propagate the Gospel in that city. By the way he lodged with a faithful brother, called James Watson of Inner-Goury. In the middle of the night he got up, and went into the yard, which two men hearing they privately followed him. While in the yard, he fell on his knees, and prayed for some time with the greatest fervency, after which he arose, and returned to his bed. Those who attended him, appearing as though they were ignorant of all, came and asked him where he had been. But he would not answer them. The next day they importuned him to tell them, saying “Be plain with us, for we heard your mourning, and saw your gestures.”
On this he with a dejected countenance, said, “I had rather you had been in your beds.” But they still pressing upon him to know something, he said, “I will tell you; I am assured that my warfare is near at an end, and therefore pray to God with me, that I shrink not when the battle waxeth most hot.”
Soon after, Cardinal Beaton, archbishop of St. Andrews, being informed that Mr. Wishart was at the house of Mr. Cockburn, of Ormistohn, in East Lothian, applied to the regent to cause him to be apprehended; with which, after great persuasion, and much against his will, he complied.
In consequence of this the cardinal immediately proceeded to the trial of Wishart, against whom no less than eighteen articles were exhibited. Mr. Wishart answered the respective articles with great composure of mind, and in so learned and clear a manner as greatly surprised most of those who were present.
After the examination was finished, the archbishop endeavored to prevail on Mr. Wishart to recant; but he was too firmly fixed in his religious principles and too much enlightened with the truth of the Gospel, to be in the least moved.
On the morning of his execution there came to him two friars from the cardinal; one of whom put on him a black linen coat, and the other brought several bags of gunpowder, which they tied about different parts of his body.
As soon as he arrived at the stake, the executioner put a rope round his neck and a chain about his middle, upon which he fell on his knees and thus exclaimed:
“O thou Savior of the world, have mercy upon me! Father of heaven, I commend my spirit into Thy holy hands.”
After this he prayed for his accusers, saying, “I beseech thee, Father of heaven, forgive them that have, from ignorance or an evil mind, forged lies of me: I forgive them with all my heart. I beseech Christ to forgive them that have ignorantly condemned me.”
He was then fastened to the stake, and the fagots being lighted immediately set fire to the powder that was tied about him, which blew into a flame and smoke.
The governor of the castle, who stood so near that he was singed with the flame, exhorted the martyr, in a few words, to be of good cheer, and to ask the pardon of God for his offences. To which he replied, “This flame occasions trouble to my body, indeed, but it hath in nowise broken my spirit. But he who now so proudly looks down upon me from yonder lofty place (pointing to the cardinal) shall, ere long, be ignominiously thrown down, as now he proudly lolls at his ease.” Which prediction was soon after fulfilled.
The hangman, that was his tormentor, sat down upon his knees, and said, “Sir, I pray you to forgive me, for I am not guilty of your death.” To whom he answered, “Come hither to me.” When that he was come to him, he kissed his cheek, and said: “Lo, here is a token that I forgive thee. My heart, do thine office.” And then he was put upon the gibbet and hanged, and burned to powder. When that the people beheld the great tormenting, they might not withhold from piteous mourning and complaining of this innocent lamb’s slaughter.
It was not long after the martyrdom of this blessed man of God, Master George Wishart, who was put to death by David Beaton, the bloody archbishop and cardinal of Scotland, A.D. 1546, the first day of March, that the said David Beaton, by the just revenge of God’s mighty judgment, was slain within his own castle of St. Andrews, by the hands of one Leslie and other gentlemen, who, by the Lord stirred up, brake in suddenly upon him, and in his bed murdered him the said year, the last day of May, crying out, “Alas! alas! slay me not! I am a priest!” And so, like a butcher he lived, and like a butcher he died, and lay seven months and more unburied, and at last like a carrion was buried in a dunghill.
Excerpted from Fox’s Book of Martyrs